Kafka in Sderot

Hit twice by a Kassam? Wait twice as long for reimbursement.

sderot kassam 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
sderot kassam 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
What does the State of Israel owe citizens who have been under continual bombardment for seven years? Not a tax break, apparently. A Tel Aviv District Court on Sunday rejected a petition by 41 Sderot residents for tax exemption retroactive to June 28, 2004 - the day when a Kassam barrage claimed the first fatality in that western Negev town. The plaintiffs argued that the state had violated the contract that obligates it to protect its citizens from enemy attack. Therefore, they claimed, it was not entitled to demand that they contribute to the national coffers until it offered them the same degree of security taken for granted by Israelis elsewhere. The judge decreed this was a politically-motivated lawsuit. Perhaps. But that doesn't render the litigants' sense of alienation from the central government any less real and it certainly doesn't diminish their disaffection, frustration and anxiety. Physical safety is only one aspect of their perceived neglect. The Foreign Ministry recently opened a liaison office in Sderot to cater to reporters and foreign visitors who have belatedly discovered the hardship on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza. Finance Minister Ronni Bar-On toured the town, visited a rocket-damaged home and promised to minimize red-tape which delays compensation and assistance to victims. The only sure feature of the compensation procedures now in place is that they're sluggish, begrudging and partial at best. No family whose home suffers a Kassam hit can expect to fully recoup its losses. Rounds of haggling with the authorities ensue, despite the fact that the law guarantees full reimbursement for all losses accruing from enemy attack, other than jewelry, art or antiques. If items under the latter category are wiped out, there's no recourse. Government assessors are dispatched and often their mission appears to be to belittle the damage and save the Treasury greater outlays. A family whose kitchen appliances were totally destroyed was offered a derisory amount because the items weren't new. The fact remains that they cannot be replaced with the sum offered in their lieu. This story is typical. Apparent bureaucratic arbitrariness sometimes derives from official price-guides for construction work which are so detached from reality as to impose prohibitive costs on homeowners who in the best of times were never well-to-do. The difference between the payout and the actual expenses can reach hundreds of thousands of shekels. Families have been left with unrepaired roofs or windows for months until wrangles with officialdom can be worked out. Capriciousness frequently defies reason. One assessor ordered the replacement of ceramic tiles on a downed kitchen wall but refused to do likewise for the directly adjoining demolished work-counters. Even when a claim is finally settled, of course, the claimant remains vulnerable to future Kassam volleys. Indeed there are cases of repeat claims. One couple with six children had to spend thousands of shekels of its own meager resources to mend the damage of one direct hit, only to be hit again. The first time it took 30 days for the claim to go through. The second time an irate official reportedly told the family that, since they were not first-time claimants, they would have a 60-day wait. Without even getting into the issue of whether Sderot's agony and insecurity are force majeure or not, let the hapless population at least be spared bureaucratic hardheartedness. Officialdom's parsimony toward victims of a situation which the government seems unable to ameliorate is entirely avoidable. It is also insufferable. Average citizens shouldn't be made liable for circumstances from which the government has failed to shield them in the first place. Making promises while the television cameras are rolling is not good enough. Minister Bar-On must do his utmost to cut through the red-tape that is making the lives of Sderot residents even more miserable than need be. And as for tax exemptions, the state owes the people of Sderot every possible indulgence.